The Deadliest Drug in America

June 1, 2018

It is a social lubricant that can end careers and lives, but few people were talking about it—until recently.

For the first time in a while, pundits and politicians were talking about the drug that kills more people than any other each year in the United States.

Alcohol upstaged opioid abuse in news coverage recently, but only after Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson withdrew his name for consideration to head Veterans Affairs in April, in part because of allegations that he has abused alcohol. Jackson has denied having any problem with alcohol.

This provides an opportune time to discuss the seriousness of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, more than double the number of people, 42,000, killed by heroin and opioid prescription drug overdoses in 2016. Excessive drinking accounted for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults.

In addition, more than 66.7 million Americans reported binge drinking in the past month in 2015, according to a report by the Office of the Surgeon General.

As someone who has studied alcohol use disorder for over 15 years and who has treated thousands of patients who have it, I think it’s a major, yet often poorly understood, public health problem.

A Social Lubricant

Alcohol can be a quick and easy way to get into the spirit of celebration. And it feels good. After two glasses of wine, the brain is activated through complex neurobiochemical processes that naturally release dopamine, a neurotransmitter of great importance.

When the dopamine molecule locks on to its receptor located on the surface of a neuron, or basic brain cell, a “buzz” occurs. It is often desirably anticipated before the second glass is empty.

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